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The 10 Best Books to Help You Become A Better Stand Up

AdvicePosted by Bobby Carroll Tue, September 02, 2014 10:01:16

Books On Starting Out


Greg Dean - Step by Step to Stand Up Comedy 9780325001791 Really is the finest basic manual for getting you from no material to payable 20 in comedy. Great writing exercises are probably what’ll keep you returning to the well but it really includes everything from the best way to generate stagetime for yourself to advice on not sleeping with waiting staff (... so American)


Logan Murray - Be a Great Stand-Up: Teach Yourself 9781444107265 This ‘How To’ came out a couple of years after I started gigging regularly and it covered a lot of what I had already figured out for myself or had read elsewhere so while I may not be its biggest proponent it still is very useful. It treads much of the same ground as the above book in a slightly more British scene centric vibe. For me it crystalised some ideas I was forming in my own head about what mechanics of performance and set formation. If anything as a book written by the comedy tutor responsible for the most people starting stand up in my lifetime (The Amused Moose course) it made me realise my purist attitude of not doing a course and feeling my way around the middle spots and new act nights that were around then was probably a wasted year. In retrospect I was at a disadvantage by not doing a course like Logan’s - it would have put me on the same footing and given me an equal confidence as his many better graduates who were legion when I was finding my way. This is a cheaper alternative to that or a taster as to what a good course can open your eyes too. The edition I read also had 30 or so pages of interviews with good gigging stand ups and if I hadn’t loaned my copy to someone else I’d reread them quite often.


William Knoedelseder - I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy's Golden Era 9781586483173 If you’ve ever read Easy Riders Raging Bulls about the emergence of modern cinema then this book, in both format and biographical revelation, is the equivalent for the birth of modern comedy, both on stage and off. It mashes up a series of interviews and anecdotes to tell about the birth of The LA Comedy Store (the model of which all pro clubs evolved from) to the point where suicide and strike lead to acts eventually being paid. As a new act you’ll take heart in the tales of new comedian living off ketchup and a chance of a 10 at the pro show, while for those of us people who care about the way the UK comedy scene is going (especially in London) it might shine a light on why pay to play, bringers and free entry shows with no budget are deemed so pernicious by those of us who make our living and love comedy. Politics aside, its is the third best “holiday” read on this list after Steve Martins and Johnny Vegas’s autobiographies.


Frank Skinner 9780099426875 & Frank Skinner: On the Road 9781844131907 Most celebrity comedy autobiography is Christmas stocking filler cash in… Jack Dee’s for example is a load of unperformed observational routines in prose form eventually leading to few pages about his first years in comedy. Very few of them focus on a life in comedy. Frank Skinner didn’t start gigging until his 30s so while there is a large chunk of papyrus spent on from his problems leading up to his becoming a (great) comedian when he gets there you are rewarded with a decent insight into what life on the UK scene is like and what becoming a comic entails (catch: if you are good). The same warts and all intelligent honesty and cheeky one of the lads charm he brings to his gigs is here in the books making them proper wry smile page turners. Of course for the delusional among you, or those who might prefer an unintended fantastical satire of what its like to be the best comedian in the world, there’s always Peter Kay’s second book Saturday Night Peter (subtitle Triumph of Will) ( alternative subtitle My Struggle).



Books That Will Help With The Writing Process


Gene Perret - Successful Stand Up Comedy: Advice from a Writer 9780573699160 Once you know what you are doing this book by a Late Night comedy talk show writer is the next step up. If you want to figure out how jokes really work or have exercises to get your 5 to 10, or 10 to 20 then this is the Tabula Rasa. Easily the most opened book I owned when I spent my Sundays working on new ideas or adding to established bits.


Steve Martin - Born Standing Up 9781847371034 The bible. When this came out to rave reviews from the comedy and broadsheet press EVERY comedian I met that month had a copy next to their notebook or under their arm. It is a beautiful piece of prose but Martin’s secrets to making you a better (or even the best) stand up are baked in it like chocolate chips in a cookie. What you should be looking for in it are inspiration (no one came from nothing to being the biggest comedy performer ever than Steve Martin), the idea of treating joke writing with same mechanical approach as magic tricks, the importance of editing out what doesn’t pull its weight and sticking to a bit if it works. Every time an act gives up on a bit that audiences love as (whiny voice) “I’m bored of it” or “I have Edinburgh coming up” I want to whack them over the head with a copy of this. You’ll never play stadiums if you jettison your best stuff, once you play arenas and the crowd gleefully recites your routines back at you and you are heading to Hollywood next week anyways THEN you can give up on a bit that kills.


Stewart Lee - How I Escaped My Certain Fate 9780571254804 And so from one of the most successful, joyous comedians to one of our self styled least successful. A stark contrast to Saturday Night Peter is held within these reprinted scripts’ lengthy footnotes, one comedian - widely considered a genius, who has had four television series under his own name commissioned, can sell out month long work in progress theatre engagements and the Fringe and his actual tours plus has the freedom to write West End musicals - has a bit of a moan about how shitty his comedy career has been. Sometimes it is hard to tell with Lee how high his eyebrow is arched as he paints such a bleak picture of his envious career, as he has carved himself a unique niche through good historical timing, talent and not quitting when the chip genuinely were down for him. For my money he is a true great and any book that puts down in black and white three of his finest hours with his own true insight and revelations in the detailed annotations has to be a must read for even the most mainstream, populist hopeful. There’s gold in Lee’s black mountains on how to keep producing award winning hours of comedy writing.


Franklyn Ajaye - Comic Insights: The Art of Stand Up Comedy 9781879505544 In depth interviews with some of the greatest American stand up comedians. Utterly readable and full of good and dubious advice.


Discovering Your Voice


Johnny Vegas - Becoming Johnny Vegas 9780007382729 The newest book on this list and for my money the most useful and the best written. A great read - Michael Pennington’s childhood and teenage years are funny, heartwarming, familiar, troubling and a right readable romp even at their darkest moments. Those first 150 pages of larks and misery though are the building blocks that not only herd Michael towards a life in comedy but form the attitude, confidence and material of Johnny Vegas. The only biography that offers a soup to nuts insight into the formation of a comic persona, if you read this with a comedian’s eyes Becoming Johnny Vegas is the most important work on discovering your “voice” as a stand up. If you are too dim to scoop such cream from it though, the rest of the book is an authentic look at Johnny’s rise from open miccer to UK comedy phenomenon. Just look at the included photo of his gigging diary before he made it “Frog and Bucket” “Up the Creek” and the like every weekend. I doubt many acts have a schedule that impressive before their debut Edinburgh hour these 18 years later.


Tony Allen - Attitude: Want to Make Something Of It? The Secret of Stand Up Comedy 9780906362563 Before Becoming Johnny Vegas came out, this would have been the only book I could have recommend on finding your voice. The advice within -beyond the overriding tenet that finding your voice is the most important thing needed to excel at stand up - is obscure as the book is mainly a potted history of solo performing with an emphasis on the Eighties alternative comedy boom were Allen was a key figure. It belongs on your shelf but these days feels more like a trailer for Allen’s workshops (which seem to unfortunately no longer run) rather than a true guide to give you the tools to discover your voice without attending. As a UK history of alternative comedy and your first clue on your road to being a better comedian it is still more than worth a read. Perhaps now Tony is no longer running the course to which this is the introduction to, he could type up the keys to the kingdom that his course promised to divulge?